Looking for things to do in Luang Prabang? We’ve got you covered with our guide to the things we loved doing most in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Crossing the border into Laos, you can actually feel your pulse begin to drop as your body relaxes into a new level of chill.
We’re still not sure what causes this slightly sedative effect – the pockets of pristine nature, the many towns that have a languid riverfront vibe, the calming presence of monks, or the genuine smiles of relaxed locals – all we know is that it’s almost impossible to travel here and not feel like you’re spending your days in a dreamy haze.
While all the areas we saw in Laos (Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Don Det) stayed true to this vibe in varying degrees, if you head north to Luang Prabang you’ll find that the real zen master has stood up – and is a dang good-looking one at that.
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This magical ancient former royal city was built on the confluence of two major rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan. This is kind of ironic really, when you think about the fact that it’s also a complete melting pot of Lao and French culture; the latter’s influence found in the crumbling French colonial architecture, baguettes, and restaurants throughout the town. UNESCO Heritage status also protects from the rumble of a thousand trucks and buses (they’re banned) rolling through the city – a welcome relief in SE Asia.
It’s hard to describe Luang Prabang, mostly because it’s one of those places that you need to feel for yourself to really understand. Words like ‘serene’ and ‘restful’ flit in between our memories from there – filling the gaps around images of a lush green riverside town, orange-clad monks, and the warmth of locals.
We definitely expected to find a pretty city having seen it described as the ‘jewel of Indochina’ – but did we expect to find such a haven of tranquility? Definitely not, but we’re so glad to have stumbled upon it. Here’s our favourite things to do in Luang Prabang, the city of ultimate zen.
OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
#1 EXPLORE THE GLORIOUS TEMPLES
Yeah ok, temples really shouldn’t be too foreign to a list like this. But what makes Luang Prabang’s so special is the general feeling of mysticism that floats through the town thanks to the 33 active Wats. That is a lotta temple for a little town.
Whatever your spiritual interests are (or aren’t – whatever, we’re not here to judge), weaving your way through the quiet grounds and intricate deep burgundy and golds of the monasteries really is soothing for the soul.
LP’s best-known temple Wat Xieng Thong is the perfect spot to park yourself in some shade and monk-watch, contemplate Nirvana and soak up the serenity. If you’re lucky, you might also stumble upon a wedding photoshoot (we did!) and get the chance to witness some beautiful traditional costumes.
There’s also an incredible mosaic of life on the western wall which really can’t be missed.
You’re required to pay or make a donation to almost all temples in Luang Prabang – costs generally range between 10,000 kip – 20,000 kip (~$2.50).
Like most tourist attractions, it’s best to get there early. Always remember to be respectful – these are religiously significant sites and should be treated as such – both males and females, cover your bare arms and legs.
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#2 ENJOY THE COLOURS OF LUANG PRABANG NIGHT MARKETS
South East Asia is a haven for markets, and Luang Prabang has one of the best – the colourful and lively night Evening Markets, which take place from 17:00 – 23:00 in the centre of town. Hill-tribe traders and local vendors emerge selling all the usual products, including incredible wood carvings, handicrafts, jewellery (it’s the perfect place to load up of traveller wristbands), lighting, clothing, and other knick knacks. As is the case with most markets in the region, bartering is normal – play hard but fair and haggle politely.
It’s also a wonderful place to photograph as the streets are alive with colour and people, however remember to be respectful as ask before you take a portrait.
To avoid the crowds, arrive around 17:00, however the best time to visit is around 8pm, when the vibe makes it a fun night out. As always, be careful of pickpockets, and barter hard but fair for the best prices.
#3 EAT TO YOUR HEATS CONTENT IN BUFFET STREET
Buffet street is a backpackers dream – a narrow laneway filled with a market style buffet, with tasty local dishes ranging from fish and meat dishes, to vegetarian.
You pay for a bowl, and then pick what you want – couple it with a beer and you’re all set. The seating is communal, which is perfect to meet fellow travellers and exchange stories over a decent meal.
10,000 – 20,000 kip (~$1 – $2.50)
Steer clear of the meats – we were struck down with food poisoning as a result of eating some dodgy sausage. Fish is okay though!
#4 WATCH THE ALMS GIVING CEREMONY
Monks and zen go together like temples and incense, and probably the most iconic image of Luang Prabang is that of the saffron-robed barefoot monk on the daily morning alms collection rounds.
Before dawn, hundreds of barefoot monks walk single file through the city collecting sticky rice donations from the local lay people. It’s a hugely important aspect of their culture, and it’s truly magical to witness (as long as you participate right). If you’re thinking of heading to the alms ceremony, check out our guide on participating without being that guy.
We wrote a whole post on how to be respectful during morning alms in Luang Prabang – go read it here.
#5 WATCH SUNSET FROM MOUNT PHOUSI
100 metres above the town centre, Mount Phousi is boss when it comes to the Luang Prabang skyline, offering up 360-degree views of the town, golden pagodas, and the fog rolling in across the layers of distant mountains. It’s pretty enchanting.
20,000 kip (~$2.50)
It’s also extremely popular with the sunrise/sunset worshippers, so if you’re there in the late afternoon unfortunately you’ll have to be prepared to watch part of your sunset through the screen of someone else’s phone or camera.
#6 ADMIRE THE BEAUTY OF KUANG SI WATERFALL
For a landlocked country, a surprising proportion of what’s awesome about Laos revolves around water, with Kuang Si no exception. How many waterfalls have you seen that boast a 50-metre cascading drop into three-tiered azure swimming holes? Probably not many, if any.
When we say the water here has to be seen to be believed, we’re not exaggerating. Turquoise, azure, whatever you want to call it, Kuang Si is like swimming in the sky. Hike up to the top (appropriate footwear is key to success here), and you can actually stand in the waterfall, about a metre back from the lip (PSA for the mums out there – there is a barrier keeping all safe and sound!)
20,000 kip (~$2.50) entrance fee
We definitely recommend visiting Kuang Si waterfall early (8am), before the hoards out tourists arrive. That way, you’ll have it ‘mostly’ to yourself, and will be able to enjoy it’s natural beauty. After 11am, it becomes extremely busy. For those wanting to swim, there are changing facilities.
TEMPLES AND CHILL – OUR FAVOURITE PHOTOS FROM LAOS
#7 CYCLE, WALK, OR YOGA THROUGH THE LUANG PRABANG
Given the lack of major traffic on the roads, this is the perfect place to hire a bicycle or lace up the walking shoes and really spend some time exploring the surrounds. There’s something to discover down every almost-french laneway, and a cycle to the hills around the town will leave you in utter awe.
Of course, Luang Prabang wouldn’t be complete without some meditation and a little ‘om’ – so check out the cooperative of independent yoga teachers and get your yoga on in some of the city’s most beautiful spots.
Walking is free, unsurprisingly, while you can hire a bike for around 15,000 – 40,000 kip (~$2-5) per day for many places in town, or from your accommodation. Yoga is around 40,000 kip (~$5) per hour long session.
While cycling through Luang Prabang is generally pretty safe, always wear a helmet and keep your wits about you – sometimes your travel insurance won’t cover you for bicycle accidents.
#8 EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
The best way to inhale the atmosphere of a place is to inhale its food – a step up from there would be to learn how to cook it too.
If you’re going to take a cooking class in SE Asia, this is the place to do it. French/asian fusion flavours abound, and you’ll want to be taking some recipes home to relive food nirvana in your own kitchen.
Tamarind are your best bet – they run cooking classes daily and are well renowned
285,000 kip (~$35) for a half day cooking class
#9 SIP A COCONUT MILKSHAKE AND READ BOOKS AT L’ETRANGER
There’s no shortage of cute/cool cafes in Luang Prabang, and our favourite was L’Etranger Books and Tea on Kingkitsarath Rd. Beautiful designed with French and Asian influences, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy a tea, or our favourite – the coconut milkshake.
It’s also a book store where you can buy new, or exchange old books – which is great for backpackers looking for a new read.
Depends on what you’re after, but expect to pay slightly more for food and drink than the rest of Luang Prabang.
L’Etranger also do movie nights, so if you’re after a relax night out with a side of Hollywood blockbuster, this is your place.
#10 UTOPIAN NIGHTS BY THE RIVER AT UTOPIA
Admittedly, the Utopia Bar is a very tourist-centric hangout (and alcohol is probably not overly close to the original definition of ‘zen’), but once you’ve melted into the cushions and pillows scattered about on the floor and outdoor areas of this popular bar, ordered a nice cold Beerlao, and caught up on the day’s happenings, you’ll see exactly why it’s on this list.
Beers from 15,000 kip (~$1.50)
Due to nightly curfew that extends through Luang Prabang, Utopia closes at 11:30pm. Don’t fret, the party kicks on at the infamous ‘Bowling Alley’ – it’ll make more sense when you’re there!
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